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How to Become an Academic Counselor

by Ashley Miller, studioD

An academic counselor, also known as an academic adviser, helps college and university students during their undergraduate and graduate studies. They do this by providing advice about classes, assisting with career planning and offering information and referrals. Academic counselors are classified as "School and Career Counselors" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of May 2010, these professionals earned an average yearly salary of $53,380.

Skills Needed

Academic counselors need to have the right personality and need to have a few skills to be effective in their jobs. Academic counselors work with students from diverse backgrounds, so they need to be sensitive to cultural, ethnic and racial issues. They should have excellent communication and social skills, because they work closely with students, counseling staff and faculty members. They need to be able to communicate their ideas and information clearly and effectively so that students can understand the information being presented. In addition, academic counselors need to be compassionate and understanding, as many students who seek academic counseling may be confused or unsure about their futures or struggling with their studies.


The exact educational requirements needed to become an academic counselor vary by school. Most academic counselors have at least a master's degree in a related field, like social work, higher education, counseling or psychology, according to the National Academic Advising Association, NACADA. It may be possible to find a position with just a bachelor's degree, but most employers prefer candidates with graduate degrees. Graduate coursework should include counseling theories, common student issues, psychosocial development, research and statistics.

Training and Experience

In addition to a degree, many employers prefer candidates with prior academic counseling experience. This experience is usually obtained while completing a supervised internship during your graduate studies. Some candidates also get experience through relevant part-time work during their studies. For example, you might work or volunteer in your school's office of academic affairs. The NACADA also suggests completing an advising assistantship to gain additional experience during your graduate studies. This usually involves a certain amount of teaching, counseling and direct contact with students.

Additional Information

Most academic counselors aren't required to be licensed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, many academic counselors decide to obtain licenses if their states offer them. Academic counselors may also decide to join the NACADA. This professional organization offers opportunities for networking and establishing professional contacts, continuing education and funding for research about academic advising.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

Photo Credits

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